Athletics gear up for spring sports

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For the first time in its 59 year history, Virginia Wesleyan University will hope to see all 20 athletic teams competing in the same semester. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Presidents Council voted to move all traditional fall and winter sports to the spring semester. 

Joanne Renn, the Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics said “Let me preface everything I say by saying it’s not written in stone and the approach that we’re taking is always looking at any situation with the glass half full.” 

In order to take all necessary precautions for protecting against the virus, the NCAA will be requiring testing of student-athletes. Renn explained“intermediate-risk and high-risk sports will be tested multiple times a week.”

These transmission concerns come in contrast to low-risk sports of “cross country, golf, swimming and tennis where at this point we don’t have to test or don’t have to test quite as often.” Renn continued, “so if you looked at the possibility of us playing those [low-risk] sports it would be somewhat higher than the high risk for obvious reasons.”

The frequency of tests will protect the Virginia Wesleyan community from contracting the virus from any visiting teams during games. Junior soccer player Mason Spiegel said, “It’s not ideal circumstances, but we’re willing to do anything to get back on the field and play games.”

In some weeks where there are many fixtures, it would involve testing over 400 students multiple times a week. This requires the existing staff to take on new roles. Renn explained “We are planning to get certain members of staff certified in order to meet the testing requirements. We are also looking at bringing in new staff to help with this role.” 

The logistics of sports trips are likely to change form next semester; for example, Renn stated “overnight trips are off the table unless absolutely necessary.” For the fixtures that have previously been overnight stays, Renn says that “long-distance travel matches might have to be played at a neutral site.” 

Renn also mentioned the possibility of a travel team, but as a college she stated that Virginia Wesleyan stands against this idea as “we want to provide as many of our student-athletes a full experience and travel teams would prevent this opportunity.” As for visiting teams, Renn explicitly said, “they will not be allowed in our facilities [dressing rooms and buildings]. They will have to get changed into their gear at their facility or on their bus. In addition, they will also be getting tested for COVID before every fixture.” 

In terms of spectators, Renn explained how matches may have to be viewed going forward into next semester. “We are looking at streaming all the matches online. There is likely to be a tier system of who will be able to attend the matches. Tier one being the teams playing, coaches, and athletic trainers. Tier two being athletic directors, sports communications managers, and tier 3 being other teams’ bus drivers, for example.”

On Nov. 17, the ODAC announced a plan for athletics during the spring 2021 semester. Fall sports schedules are as follows: Men and women’s cross country will not formally conduct a conference championship, but the committee is looking to have one competitive opportunity for each school. 

Field hockey will have a nine-game season that will occur March 5 through April 9. Women’s and men’s soccer are going to have an eight-game season each that starts Feb. 21. 

Volleyball is going to conduct 12 matches during their regular season that begins on March 13. Men’s and women’s basketball will complete a twelve-game schedule that will start on Jan. 23. Indoor track and field will not feature a spring championship in 2021, but teams can compete in competitions as they present themselves. 

Swimming has proposed a championship over a two-to-three day period on the weekend of March 5. Spring sports schedule has not been altered in this latest update.

By Henry West
hewest@vwu.edu